EAGAN, Minn. — After the Minnesota Vikings allowed more than 400 yards of total offense for a fifth consecutive game and moved into the bottom of the league rankings in team defense, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday some things need to change.
The Vikings are fresh off a 34-23 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday where Minnesota gave up 464 yards and recorded no sacks or turnovers and just one pass defensed. The Vikings defensive struggles primarily came on allowing big plays, as the Lions scored on passes of 41 and 48 yards on their second and fifth possessions.
O'Connell said while it's extremely difficult to issue a complete revamping of the defense, there's several areas within the scheme the team can change as it seeks improvements.
"There's a lot of things on the table. Whether it be personnel-based, whether it be schematics-based; changing things up, changing some looks, being a little bit more aggressive at times. Just picking our spots defensively to put our players in situations to be aggressive and try to make some plays," O'Connell said. "I think we've thrived this year when we've been able to turn the football over and be around the football, try to affect the quarterback with our rush. Finding ways to do that, different ways to do that is something we've got to take a long look at, as well as how we're deploying some of our players and schematically.
"I also think when you have enough inventory and information telling you certain things, I think we've got to find ways to provide different looks and change-ups to the defense while staying true to hopefully the aggressive nature of trying to put your players in positions to make successful plays and activating the players we rely on to make plays in critical moments," O'Connell continued. "I think a lot goes into it. I think coaching is very important in times like this to make sure that although we don't want to completely revamp, we have to be honest and look at things in a way where we can be the most competitive group we can possibly be over there and that's what we're doing."
O'Connell added while the team can use the final four regular-season games as a sample size of what can be accomplished differently defensively, it must focus on the particular week's opponent.
The Vikings (10-3) will host the Colts (4-8-1) at noon (CT) Saturday with another chance to clinch the NFC North with a victory.
"I think we've got to try to do whatever we think is going to help us win this football game in this week. As the season tends to go on and on, I think it's important that we start, and we always do, we always go into these games trying to do whatever we think is best to win that particular week. But I think we try to establish some of the things we think can be possible fixes on some of our issues we've had of late with explosive plays and teams being able to take advantage of maybe some things they're seeing on tape, so we've got to try to do that first and foremost," O'Connell said. "If we can do that on the short term and start building an inventory of things that can be put in our toolbox to help with some of those issues, then we can rely on some of those things in addition to personnel we think gives us the best possible chance to win and have success and then be able to pair that together week in and week out to give the Minnesota Vikings a chance to win and play in all three phases in a way that can contribute to winning football."
Here are two additional takeaways from O'Connell's availability on Monday:
O'Connell confirmed that left tackle Blake Brandel — who started the past three games in place of Christian Darrisaw — tore his MCL Sunday and will be "more than likely" out for at least four weeks.
"I think Blake has stepped in and really handled a lot over these past few games, answering the challenge," O'Connell said. "There were some moments where he provided really winning football at that position, filling in for one of the better players at the position in this league, I really do think, in Christian. I'm just proud of the way Blake battled and really showed his versatility. Without a lot of game reps logged over a long period of time at that position, he went in and responded. So, I'm proud of his ability to do that. Very unfortunate that he gets the MCL, then. But, as he's attacked this whole season, this whole process, I expect him to do that in that rehab process down there with [Executive Director of Player Health and Performance] Tyler [Williams] and [Head Athletic Trainer] Uriah [Myrie] and hopefully, we have Blake available to us at some point this season."
O'Connell said Darrisaw and center Garrett Bradbury are progressing and he expects both linemen to potentially have a full workload this week.
O'Connell added that cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., and wide receiver Adam Thielen should both be available this week and listed linebacker Jordan Hicks and nose tackle James Lynch as "day-to-day."
"[Cam's] a little sore but he should transition and continue to be available for us. Adam has kind of had the same type of thing pop up with a little bit of bruising in his knee from either contact or just hit it a couple of times and kind of aggravated that, but he should be OK to progress through the week and be available to us," O'Connell said. "Both Jordan and James — James with the shoulder and Jordan with his foot/ankle — should progress and be day-to-day throughout the week, and we're hoping they get to a place where both of those guys should be available to us."
O'Connell explains late onside kick
After the Vikings scored on a 15-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver K.J. Osborn with 2:49 left to trim the deficit to 31-23, O'Connell elected to go for the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff.
Detroit's Josh Woods recovered the ball, though, at the Minnesota 44-yard line.
The Vikings forced Detroit into a third-and-7 at the Minnesota 41 with two minutes remaining, but the Lions converted the first down on a 9-yard pass from Jared Goff to right tackle Penei Sewell, who reported as eligible, lined up away from the spot and motioned to the right. A few plays — and another 1:43 — later, kicker Michael Badgley connected on a 48-yard field goal to put the game out of reach.
"If they don't execute that play, they're not in field goal range, and as we've proven this year, we can move the ball pretty quickly in the 2-minute mode," O'Connell said. "We had done it against that team earlier in the season, so really, I was looking at [the onside kick] like a chance to get the ball back right now while also knowing we were going to make a stop regardless. If we kick it deep, and they still get that first first down, they're still going to be punting that ball, and although it would still be an 8-point game, there would still be about 10-20 seconds left if they were able to get a first down regardless. I looked at it like a chance to get the football and be aggressive in that moment. Didn't get the execution we wanted, but that's not going to change the process.
"That's always going to be game-to-game, the feel of how all three phases are playing and ultimately whatever I think gives us the best chance to have multiple chances to have a chance to go win that game. Just didn't get it done. Wouldn't change it," O'Connell continued. "Felt like it was the right thing for our team in that moment, and we didn't end up getting the stop. On that first set of downs, they made that play, like I said, and that ended up being a major factor. They did end up kicking the field goal, as well, to make it a two-possession game, so you've got to give them credit for making the plays they needed to make to win that game."